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8.9.05

Democrats protest too much so to hide their Katrina-related incompetencies

A constant refrain we hear from many Louisiana public officials, liberals and Democrats, and their media accomplices (sometimes all three together) is the Hurricane Katrina disaster in New Orleans was made worse, both before and after, by Pres. George W. Bush and his administration’s reactions. Obviously, these people either don’t know or ignore the relevant facts showing that on both accounts the real causes hit a lot closer to home.

Before the storm struck, Bush and the federal government gets blamed for not spending enough money, indeed for suggesting cuts, in requests to improve the levees around the city, perhaps as a consequence to fund the war in Iraq, or by tax cuts. But in fact, not only could any amount of money spent during Bush’s term not have improved the situation, enough money to have significantly strengthened the levees was given to local authorities who then chose to spend it on other priorities.

With advancements in technology, only in the past decade or so has there been a realization that the existing levees would come up short relative to a huge hurricane and that it would take decades to fully complete an adequate levee system – one which in fact, given the vagaries of Mother Nature, might never be good enough. However, horribly, it seems that the money and the time once had been available – except that the governing authorities involved, the Orleans Parish Levee District and the state, diverted the funds to other priorities.


In the case of the district, in the past two decades it spent to build a new marina, to facilitate a gambling riverboat, and on restoration of a fountain (and these were its less troublesome decisions – it dedicated other resources to activities of questionable ethics). Its general level of corruption prompted the state to curtail its spending of funds that could have met the spending needs to improve the Orleans levee system to protect against an extremely powerful hurricane, of which much of the work, had it commenced when the money was received, would have been completed by now.

The state’s culpability comes from two sources. While it acted prudently to keep a close eye on the District’s activity (even if its hands weren’t completely clean), Govs. Edwin Edwards, Mike Foster, and Kathleen Blanco did little to place members on its governing board (the governor has six of the eight appointees) who wanted to rein in its inefficient, if not illegal, behavior, nor did the state Legislature commit to oversee sufficiently what it did or how it spent its funds.

Also, the state itself places a low priority on funding for upgrading the levees – after all, why should state government be dependent upon the federal government for this? Because, given our past flagrant spending behavior, so little recently has been available for capital expenditures that the necessary monies for this project garnered a category 5 priority for capital outlay – essentially meaning no guaranteed state money for the foreseeable future.

It’s not like the danger wasn’t known by both the state and District. Instead, marinas, fountains, and slush funds were more important to our state and local politicians.

Then there’s the excuse that Bush and the federal government responded too slowly to the gathering crisis and its aftermath. Again, this view disregards the facts.

Three days before the storm hit, Bush gathered advisers’ input on how to deal with the storm, including preparing documentation to allow for expedited federal intervention, an unusual move which Bush began implementing by putting federal agencies on alert. Then, the head of the federal government’s hurricane tracking operations called both Blanco and New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin to urge them to take drastic precautionary measures.

Nagin, of course, delayed his mandatory evacuation call 12 hours and failed to implement his own city’s emergency preparedness program (which was incomplete to begin with: “should a major tropical weather system or other catastrophic event threaten or impact the area, specifically directed long range planning and coordination of resources and responsibilities efforts must be undertaken” – which was never done.) Blanco, to her credit, did order on Friday a state of alert.

But she did not do the one thing required to allow for speedy federal intervention as required by federal law – she didn’t send a specific request for assistance in a timely manner. Instead, she hemmed and hawed over whether to give it out of a fear that she might not look good politically. (Nor did she, with Nagin, after the experience with Hurricane Ivan the year previous, correct deficiencies clearly identified in the state’s emergency plan.) Only later did she start to make, haltingly, the specific requests required while seemingly overwhelmed with the responsibility (in great contrast to the clear, decisive leadership demonstrated by her Mississippi counterpart Haley Barbour).

After the levees broke, Nagin’s inability to keep order and Blanco’s continued dithering combined to hinder federal assistance (including her hiring of former Clinton Administration FEMA head James Lee Witt, who politicized the agency into assisting his boss). Many other Louisiana elected officials, both statewide and local, Democrats all (imagine that!), assisted by the state’s ineffectual senior senator, followed these leads and threw mini-tantrums of varying degrees blaming the federal government headed by a Republican (and now, even each other.)

And thereby once again reaffirms the sorry political leadership that typifies the state of Louisiana. Given a political culture short on demanding performance and long on expecting a handout, it’s not surprising the majority liberal Democrats put into office would attempt to point fingers to cover up their deficiencies, especially in a partisan way. That’s something the rest of the country recognizes, but, with any luck, so will New Orleans citizens (if any remain) and Louisianans – especially come election time.

1 comment:

finnegan* said...

Wow, it's late so I don't have time to look through all your links tonight but I've really been skeptical about all the finger-pointing in the aftermath of Katrina. I'll investigate further and comment later... in the meantime, thanks for laying it all out.